Art by: Susan Nicolai
The Smell of Cinnamon Chassis Tails Shorn on the Ground
by Calie Voorhis
Seems to me some days I should dust the dirt off these battered boots, put on my finest blue dress, and skip down the Way, overgrown with vermice weeds and sweet tart bramberry bushes, straight past Proxima and Procyon, through Alpha Fourteen, just to see where the path leads. Seems to me some days it would be the right thing to do, run away from Uncle and the farm, whistling off into the universe, just like Royce did.
Instead, I should stop writing in this here journal, cause dreaming’s for fools, and we don’t follow the Way here in Mithcar. No, what we do here is mop up after the threathings, which I really should get to, because the whole herd’s in heat, at both ends, and as Uncle says, everyone knows that’s a sign of a bad winter ahead, not that you can tell a bad winter from a good winter, cause when your snot freezes on the good days, it don’t really matter none.
And it don’t matter to no one, not to anyone at all, that I spent last year’s pay on a blue dress that I’ll never ever wear, and I can’t talk about Royce at all, not after he skipped his self into the future and left the farm that terrible night.
Nope, I can’t talk about that, nor about Uncle to anyone except these pages, and day-dreaming’s for fools, remember?
It’s a sunny day today, dear pages, and the meadow is alive with tall purple chassis tails, growing up waist high, almost ready for harvest. The Way, that wide swath of bramberry brambles, glistens in fragments of sunlight through the thicket. If I had some courage, I’d take the path, tripping merrily over the cracked and worn cobblestones, each section reflecting destination, and slide on through to someplace else.
But the threathings are getting ready to foal, and the Aunties are all in a tither, and the new minister ain’t half-bad looking, even if he’d shun me for thinking about the Way. And Royce ain’t sent no word at all, not one since he left, so I’m guessing he found someone prettier, someone without threathing blood stained on their boots and Mithcar mud caked under her nails. So to Hectera with him, anyways.
And to take the Way, I’d have to clear the bramberries enough to get a good run, and someone’d notice, surely they would, and Uncle would be furious in that wrinkly-faced purple way, and the Aunties would sigh and twist their hands, and the new preacher would get all scowly and dark, and his big black eyes would glower at me under his thick brows.
Uncle’d probably lock me in again, like he did that night we don’t talk about.
Dreamings are for fools. There’s a reason we don’t follow the Way, don’t want all that galactic nonsense here, no sirree and Bob’s my uncle anyways.
We snuck off one night, cause what else is there to do here on these longest nights, which last all winter, just one long, dark, so cloudy even the stars can’t poke their twinkle through?
Royce and I, we walked to the Way. Spread out our blanket under a cove of bramberries and scraped the ice off the surface so we could watch the worlds spin out before us, a little window with flashes of other worlds.
Places where the men wore dresses and women wore pants, or maybe the women weren’t women, but no one seemed to care.
“I gotta go,” he said, cradling my head in his rough hands. A broken fingernail caught in my hair, and his breathe smelled of tart minatas, and I didn’t care none for any of that, just the look in his eyes that said clear as day he was leaving.
He didn’t need to say there wasn’t a place for him, didn’t need to remind me of his cousin, didn’t need to tell me what the Uncle would do while the Aunties looked away and cried in corners.
“Let’s go,” he said, leaping to his feet and stamping ice off his tight boots. “Ten steps, that’s what cousin Mavin said, ten steps hand-in-hand, and you and I will be gone.”
I stayed in the huddle of the brambles, chillier now without his warmth.
“Where will we end up?”
He stomped some more to keep warm in the icy wind. “Don’t know, don’t care. You see what’s out there, right beneath out feet. An eternity of worlds for the choosing. Pick one warm and take my hand, and we’ll run together.”
Dear paper, you know what I should have done. I shoulda taken his hand, grabbed him so tight his torn fingernails drew blood, shoulda skipped in my torn work dress covered with threathing afterbirth, and run down the way those ten steps into the universe.
But like the things we didn’t say, I didn’t go and after a while he sighed and sat down beside me again, drawing me in close and we watched those worlds fly by every ten clicks, until the Aunties called us in for morning chores, though the sky never changed color.
Nothing changed color and two nights later he was gone, off to seek the Way and the worlds, without me. Couldn’t blame him none for leaving before the unspoken happened to either of us, before his world turned as gray as a month’s day of winter. I couldn’t blame him, just me.
Oh the things we didn’t say to each other that night, the things that never needed saying between us. I shoulda said them, anyways. I shoulda taken his hand.
But I didn’t oh diary my friend, only friend now. I didn’t.
I continued to sneak out, trying to find him in scraped off corners of the Way, in the bramble nest, watching for him in crowds of white suits on a world full of splashing color, tried to spy him swimming in dark purple seas where tree things lounged in the looming red sunset. I didn’t see him, never expected to really. But I was never going to stop looking for his smile, the dimples in his cheek, never stop smelling his sour breath against my face so warm.
I rebelled in all the small permissible ways and some that weren’t allowed, cause I came to the Way, again and again. Couldn’t tell you why I waited, oh words my friend, couldn’t tell you. Except I’m a coward and that ain’t the way we do things here, not since we came here before my time and the Uncle cut off the Way and the Aunties let him.
Royce and I were a pair here and that weren’t allowed. Weren’t the way of things, said the Uncle, not how it’s done said the covens of Aunties under supervision, shaking out dirt from aprons and scraping mud off their Uncle’s boot, while they clustered around him in his chair on the cold floor in a puddle together to keep warm. I sat alone.
Sorry to bleed on your pages, dear friend. I’m dreaming a little. I had to know, so I cleared out a path, in the center, just a few hectares across, where no one can see, except for the shrieking mynors flying overhead, migrating in hordes. The thicket wasn’t as high as it should be, so I guess this is the way Royce came, near four moons ago. His steps trod these stones, his feet carried him out of my life.
I got a glimpse of a world, another place, with people dressed in the galactic turbaned style I see only in the papers the young-uns smuggle around after church on a dare. I’m too old for that nonsense now, but I still sneak a peek when I can, when the minister ain’t looking.
He’s come courting me. I thought he might, not because I’m such a beauty, but because I’m the only single female since Sally Sue married that pock-faced, gray-bearded Jackson. He’s not such a bad catch—the preacher, not Jackson. Only three wives to deal with, and the Aunties and Uncle remind me I couldn’t do much better, not me with my sallow face, not me with my fancy daydreams that need curing, and surely a man of the cloth is the best solution to keep me off the Way we don’t follow.
But, oh pages, I don’t love him and I never can. The image of Royce still haunts me, his is the ghost in this fall meadow, with the smell of cinnamon chassis tails lying, fresh-mown, shorn on the ground. His is the cry that wakes me in the night, sneaking into the meadow just to hold the memory of warm lips tight.
I don’t see him in the Way, even though I looked, nor any glimpse of his passing. The tales say I should be able to, that I can follow my true-heart’s love through the road.
Perhaps my love ain’t true.
I apologize for the sloppiness of my hand-writing, pages. My fingers are numb from the cold, the first snow is falling around me, big fat flakes of water-laden snow, and I won’t be coming out much longer. Will you wait for spring, pages? Or will you be like Royce and disappear on me with no notice at all?
The preacher, he’s done proposed. Uncle said yes, of course. One less mouth for the winter, although two of the Aunties will be remedying that soon enough, they’re both big enough for barns.
The bramberries are clear, almost enough for me to take a run at the Way.
Why don’t I? Royce ain’t coming back. There’s nothing for me here.
But what if there’s nothing for me there, either? What if they all laugh at me and my work-ridden hands? All I know of the worlds out there is what I’m seeing in the Way, and that’s like peering into someone else’s window on a foggy snowy night. The fire inside may look warm, the family clustered together, but you don’t see the purple bruises or the scars from the window.
So, I guess I’ll settle down. Clean the preacher’s clothes with the other wives and wait my turn in bed like those that don’t follow the Way should. Tend to the children and the threathings.
At least I’ll be away from Uncle and his bruisings and gruntings. Right?
Oh dear pages, this is the end. Winter’s on us and the tears are freezing as fast as I can cry them, dropping to the ground with tiny thunks.
I got married today. Afterward, after the bedding, I ran out into the night, I ran here, to you. By torchlight, I finished clearing the bramberries, not caring how the thorns shredded my gloves, and I found him.
I found my Royce. Bramberries growing out of his flesh, the barbs piercing the meat of his eyes, his decaying flesh blue from winter’s ice.
He didn’t leave me. Or if he did, I bet he meant to come back, but they didn’t let him. That night, that night I’m not allowed to talk about, when Uncle came, when the Aunties locked me in, when none of them did a damn thing while I screamed. They killed him.
I can see them coming for me, Uncle my Bob and the fleet of Aunties, and the Preacher’s wives, little bobbing torchlights swarming down the hill. You can do anything to those women and they’ll stay. Not me.
The Preacher? He won’t be coming after anyone, not ever again. I saw to that and I don’t feel a bit of guilt after what I saw him doing to an Auntie. I stomped him with my boots to make sure. He ain’t moving again. The Aunties are coming after me just the same. No one here breaks tradition.
I’ve got my best blue dress on, and I don’t give a threathings hoot that my boots are stained with Preacher blood. This is the last time I’m going to write in these pages, the last time I see this meadow, the last time I see Mithcar. I’m going to skip into the future, I’m going to live for Royce and me, out there. I’m going to see where the Way goes and you can have my tears, cause I’m leaving those little ice crystals here.